Southern Regional Boys Volleyball Team Falls Short in State Title Match

Jun 13, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Southern's Shane Bent goes up for a kill during the Rams' 22-25, 25-21, 23-25 loss to Old Bridge in the NJSIAA State Championship on June 7.

As junior hitter Zack Hem exited the locker room inside South Brunswick High School on June 7, the Southern Regional volleyball coach asked Hem to say what the Rams’ loss in the NJSIAA state championship match meant to the team.

“It means we’re going to be back next year and win it,” Hem said simply, before walking into the gym where Southern parents, former players and fans were gathered.

Sure, Old Bridge found a way to knock off the Rams by a mere two points in the third game, but the Knights’ 25-22, 21-25, 25-23 victory to capture their first state title also sparked a fire that’s going to burn clear until early June next year.

“We’re going to be back,” said coach Eric Maxwell, whose squad has won six of the last 10 state crowns, including the previous two, but never three straight. “We’ll be more driven, for sure. We want to win it every year, but sometimes something happens where you say, ‘OK, we have to work just a little harder.’ And that’s a good thing.”

While the Rams definitely worked hard to be in a position to win the match and a seventh state championship, errors in critical spots did them in.

Trailing 22-21 following an Arvind Kumar kill in the first game, a pair of Southern errors all but gave Old Bridge the 1-0 lead, before a Knights’ error temporarily trimmed the margin to two points. The next serve by the Rams sailed beyond the back line for another error and the Old Bridge win.

In the second game, the Rams trailed by a point, 18-17, when a Southern player touched the net during a hit attempt, putting Southern behind by two and forcing it to come back. Three straight Kumar kills – he finished with 14 for the contest – ultimately pushed the Rams in front to stay, 22-21, while Shane bent delivered two more and Justin Kean contributed another to sent the match to a third game.

In Game 3, the Rams (37-5) jumped out to an 8-6 lead before an Old Bridge timeout yielded a pair of points that tied things up.

“We fought them off in Game 2, and I thought all the momentum was ours,” Maxwell said. “Then we got out to a couple-point lead and they called the timeout, and that was the time we really needed that Southern run. But we didn’t get those runs today, particularly in the third game. They were a great sideout team.”

From there, the Rams and Knights (32-5) continually traded points until it was 20-20. The next Southern serve sailed out of bounds, but so did the Knights’ next serve. A kill from Old Bridge’s Elan Dorkhman followed by another from Kumar made it 22-22. Another Rams’ service error gave back the lead to the Knights, but Kumar’s last kill of the match bailed them out again.

Randall Anderson and Andrew Zaleck hammered down back-to-back kills to secure Old Bridge’s first title in school history.

“In our history, where we were in Game 3, we usually win that game,” Maxwell said. “But we made errors in critical spots, and that helped them. Still, at 23-23, it’s anybody’s game. It doesn’t matter who’s on the court. It’s just a matter of who’s going to make a play, and today they made those plays to win it.”

Bent finished with 11 kills, while Hem tallied eight kills and three blocks, and Matt Maxwell managed four kills and two blocks to go along with 38 assists. Matt Jones delivered 13 digs, and Kumar had nine. Sam Iacoves added eight digs, and Logan Lipositz recorded the only ace for Southern.

“This was the match we expected,” Maxwell said. “They’re a great team, and that’s the way a state championship should be played. It was a battle right to the end. Today, they won the battle – all the credit to them. But we’ll be back.”

— David Biggy

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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